Middlebury considers smoking ban in parks

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Selectman Craig Bingham is asking his colleagues to support a new ordinance that would prohibit people from smoking in town parks.
The selectboard will spend the coming weeks discussing the proposed new law, with the possibility the seven-member panel could OK the proposal, endorse a new rule barring smoking during public events in municipal parks or drop the matter entirely.
Bingham served notice on Thursday that he will continue to lobby heavily for the outright ban, something he considers an important health safeguard. He does not believe that limiting the ban to specific events — like the annual Festival on-the-Green — is adequate.
“How is it OK to expose people to carcinogens at one time and not another time,” he said of the prospect of an event-driven ordinance as opposed to an outright ban. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Bingham said it was a local woman — ironically, a smoker — who gave him the idea of drafting a tobacco ordinance.
“She has two small children and was at a function at a town park and was upset that smokers were smoking in the presence of her small children and she didn’t feel that that was appropriate,” Bingham said.
With that in mind, Bingham got to work drafting an “ordinance prohibiting the use of tobacco products on publicly owned parks.” The new law would carry a potential fine of $25 for a smoking violation, which could be issued to people who light up in the town green, Cannon Park, Triangle Park, Wright Park, Means Woods and areas associated with the municipal recreation park.
“I thought that smoking and tobacco use should be prohibited in town parks so that people don’t have to be exposed to environmental tobacco smoke when they are enjoying functions on our town green and in public parks,” Bingham said.
Some of Bingham’s colleagues are concerned about an outright ban and the logistics of enforcing it. Among them is Selectman Don Keeler, who noted that local police, in addition to their other duties, have already been called upon to make sure vehicles aren’t idling.
Keeler also fears the new law would require placement of multiple “no smoking” signs on public property.
“We are just putting more and more responsibilities on the police to do enforcement,” Keeler said during a Feb. 8 selectboard meeting at which the proposed ordinance was presented.
Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley acknowledged that enforcing a smoking ban would be difficult. He noted that tobacco products are legal and that officers could face a dilemma about whether to ticket smokers who are just cutting through a park.
“It would be difficult for the police to enforce,” he said.
Hanley believes the town has another mechanism of dealing with the issue. The selectboard is routinely called upon to issue public assemblage permits. The board could make no smoking a condition in those permits, according to Hanley.
Selectman Victor Nuovo agreed that a new rule might be better implemented and enforced based on specific public gatherings.
“It would seem to me that a blanket prohibition is probably not enforceable and I really don’t see the point of it if someone alone is walking across the park and lights a cigarette,” Nuovo said. “It seems to me the issue is at a gathering, whether smoking should be permitted at a gathering in a public park.”
“People shouldn’t be exposed (to tobacco smoke) when they take a walk in the park,” Bingham countered.
Selectman Nick Artim also raised concerns about how the new law could be enforced, as well as how the perimeters of the town parks would be defined within the context of the no-smoking zones.
Bingham plans to put together a survey to get people’s views on a proposed smoking ban. He hopes to have that survey ready for town meeting next month.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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